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Straight edge has been a popular philosophy within portions of the hardcore community almost from day one, but New Yorkers Shelter arguably took it to its ultimate extreme with their incrementally strict interpretation of the concept, motivated by their Hare Krishna faith. If only their stylistic choices had walked as straight a path or showed as much creative integrity, because Shelter seemed to have an uncontrollable habit of switching musical gears with almost every new release, and 1995's Mantra was certainly no exception. The band's first album for Roadrunner Records, it countered the surprisingly mellow direction pursued by 1993's Attaining the Supreme with a partial return to their pure hardcore roots via welcome energy blasts like "Appreciation" and "Chance," yet also made plenty of room for surprisingly "establishment-friendly" melodic hard rock in "Here We Go Again" and "Letter to a Friend," as well as pop-punk like "Empathy," "Surrender to Your T.V.," and the title cut (which may or may not have been inspired by the mid-'90s successes of Green Day and the Offspring). Surprisingly, additional hardcore hybrids such as "Message of the Bhagavat," "Civilized Man" and "Not the Flesh" also contain serious attempts at honest-to-goodness rapping (!), and an inspired but confusing amalgam of all of the above crowds inside tellingly named album closer "Metamorphosis." This last song wasn't quite capable of elucidating (or justifying) the whys behind Shelter's head-spinning eclecticism to most conservative hardcore fans, but at least the quality of the material at hand -- like the band's Krishna-driven message -- was comparatively consistent (if at times tiresomely preachy) enough to make Mantra one of the band's strongest, most popular efforts.

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